Diocese of Bath and Wells

Diocese of Bath and Wells
Diocese of Bath and Wells
Ecclesiastical province Canterbury
Archdeaconries Bath, Wells, Taunton
Parishes 477
Churches 569
Cathedral Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew
Current leadership
Bishop Peter Price, Bishop of Bath and Wells
Suffragan Peter Maurice, Bishop of Taunton
Archdeacons John Reed, Archdeacon of Taunton
Andy Piggott, Archdeacon of Bath
Nicola Sullivan, Archdeacon of Wells

The Diocese of Bath and Wells is a diocese in the Church of England Province of Canterbury in England.

The diocese covers the county of Somerset and a small area of Dorset. The Episcopal seat of the Bishop of Bath and Wells is located in the Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew in the tiny city of Wells in Somerset. Prior to the English Reformation, it was a Roman Catholic diocese.



Early name variation

Before 909, Somerset lay within the diocese of Sherborne. At this date, Athelm (later Archbishop of Canterbury) was appointed the first bishop of the Diocese of Wells, making the secular church there into the diocesan cathedral. The secular canons at Wells vied with the monks of the monasteries at Glastonbury and Bath for supremacy in the diocese and it was with difficulty that the cathedral retained its status, so much so that the canons were reduced to begging in order to obtain their bread. It was to this impoverished cathedral church that the Bishop Gisa was appointed in 1060. Under him, grants of land were obtained successively from the kings Edward the Confessor, Harold and William the Conqueror and buildings were constructed for the secular community.

The Episcopal seat of the Bishop of Bath and Wells; Wells Cathedral, Somerset. The west front is seen here.

Gisa's successor, John de Villula (1088-1122), moved the see to become the Diocese of Bath in 1090, using the Abbey Church of Ss Peter & Paul as his cathedral and in so doing he regressed the position of the cathedral at Wells. Robert of Lewes, appointed bishop in 1136, enhanced on the position of Wells. As well as rebuilding the cathedral he instituted the arrangement by which although Bath retained precedence, the seat was located in both churches and the bishop was elected by both chapters. However the diocesan title remained the same.

Bishop Reginald fitz Jocelin (1174-91) brought Saint Hugh of Lincoln to England and his successor, Savaric FitzGeldewin (1192-1205) forcibly annexed Glastonbury Abbey to the diocese in 1197. He moved his seat there, with the approval of Pope Celestine III, and the see became officially known as the Diocese of Glastonbury. The monks of Glastonbury, however, rejected Savaric's authority and the title Diocese of Bath and Glastonbury was therefore used for all practical purposes until his successor, Jocelin of Wells, a native of Wells itself, renounced the claim to Glastonbury in 1219. Thereupon he adopted the style Diocese of Bath. Although he did not use the name of Wells in his title, his contribution to the city was greater than any other bishop of the diocese: under his authority the cathedral was restored and enlarged, adding the west front, making this the visual signature of the building. Further, he increased the thirty-five canons to fifty and founded a grammar school for the city.

Following his death in 1242 however, the monks at Bath unilaterally elected one of their number, Roger, as successor, in disregard for the chapter of Wells. His appointment received confirmation from King Henry III and the new pope Innocent IV. The chapter at Wells appealed the decision, with the result that the Pope declared, on 3 January 1245, that whilst Roger should remain, he would be bishop of a see thenceforth styled the Diocese of Bath and Wells.

Medieval diocese of Bath and Wells

The diocese of Bath and Wells proper (Badoniensis et Wellensis) dates therefore from 1245. The diocese contained the three archdeaconries of Bath, Wells, and Taunton. William of Bitton bishop from 1267-74 was renowned for his piety, and his tomb became a place of pilgrimage in Wells. The completion of the buildings was achieved under Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury (1329-63). Thomas Beckington (1443-65) was another noted liberal benefactor of the city.

Oliver King (1495-1503) rebuilt Bath Abbey in the late Perpendicular style. The work was begun in 1499 and completed in 1530 under Bishop John Clerk. The abbey was the last complete monastic edifice to be completed before the impending Reformation. He was succeeded by Adrian de Castello (1504-18) who was an absentee bishop, under whom the see was administered by Polydore Vergil the noted historian. Adrian's successor Cardinal Wolsey (1518-23) was also an absentee bishop, held the see concurrently with that of York.


The abbey at Bath was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1538 during the English Reformation. Thereafter the Church of England bishop, though retaining the old style, had his seat at Wells alone. William Barlow, was appointed in 1548. He fled in 1553 on the accession of Queen Mary I, and his successor was the Roman Catholic Gilbert Bourne (1554-59), who was deprived and imprisoned in the Tower of London by Queen Elizabeth, becoming, in 1569, one of the eleven Roman Catholic bishops who died in prison.


See also

Diocesan structure

The Diocese is split into three archdeaconries: Bath, Taunton and Wells. These in turn are split into 18 deaneries:

  • Axbridge
  • Bath
  • Bruton and Cary
  • Chew Magna
  • Crewkerne and Ilminster
  • Exmoor
  • Frome
  • Glastonbury
  • Ivelchester
  • Locking
  • Midsomer Norton
  • Portishead
  • Quantock
  • Sedgemoor
  • Shepton Mallet
  • Taunton
  • Tone
  • Yeovil

External links

Coordinates: 51°12′37″N 2°38′34″W / 51.21028°N 2.64278°W / 51.21028; -2.64278

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